VLS Constitution Day 2020: “Your Voice, Your Vote, Our Democracy”

By Kirsten Williams, Staff Writer

As Vice Dean for Students Beth McCormack wrote in her school-wide email, “There’s one thing we can always be sure of: Constitution Day comes on September 17th.” On that day in 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution in Philadelphia, PA. Modern Constitutional Day observances celebrate this event and also honor all those who have become US citizens.

Vermont Law School (VLS), in conjunction with the Vermont Bar Association, hosted its annual Constitution Day celebration on Thursday, September 17 online. The theme for the panel’s discussion this year was “your voice, your vote, our democracy.” Peter Teachout, Professor of Law at VLS and resident Constitutional Law expert, moderated the virtual event. Teachout emphasized the importance of this year’s event because it coincides with an election year and the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the constitutional amendment that in writing gave women the right to vote in national elections.

Vermont Supreme Court Justice and VLS alum Harold Eaton spoke about the birth of the women’s suffrage movement in the US, the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, and other associated events leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Next, Judge Samuel Hoar, Jr. of the Vermont Superior Court, discussed the continued structural, legal, and social impediments to the right to vote in national elections that persisted after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, especially for Black and Indigenous women.

Judge Mary Morrissey of the Vermont Superior Court then spoke about the important role of women in the judiciary and in jury service. Judge Morrissey highlighted the fact that, “[i]n reality, women have not always been recognized as part of the community for jury service…and after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, courts across the nation wrestled this new intersection.”

Vermont Superior Court Judge Kirstin Schoonover spoke on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Judge Schoonover discussed issues surrounding access to the polls, voter’s rights, and growing concerns regarding stricter voter ID laws and limited polling locations in this year’s presidential election.

Professor Teachout was the panel’s final speaker. He gave a “2020 Update” on the current status of voting and democracy in America in which he addressed issues related to voter turnout, voter composition, and campaign spending.

The event was recorded and can be accessed here.

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